Eventually, the party breaks up and most of the crew scatter to enjoy the rest of their leave and the delights of Yorktown. Kirk shakes hands, pats backs and receives a number of hugs as people pile out in pairs and groups. Spock and Uhura are the last to leave. They approach him side-by-side, arms brushing, and Kirk suppresses a strong urge to smirk or wink, ruthlessly biting back any number of comments he could make here. Instead he simply smiles.
“Captain,” Spock says. “I believe it is customary to offer congratulations on one’s day of birth.”
Kirk shrugs. “One of those silly human customs. Hurrah for surviving another year. I don’t know if that’s anything to celebrate about.”
Spock looks at him steadily, with the kind of patience that makes a part of him still chafe, even though he has become accustomed to it over the years, even begun to rely on it. “On the contrary, my friend,” Spock says, “that is everything to celebrate about.”
“I agree,” Uhura says. There’s a small smile lurking in the corner of her mouth, like a secret, and Kirk doesn’t bother to hide his surprise when she kisses him on the cheek before tugging Spock after her as they leave.
“Did you see that?” he asks, grinning in amazement. Maybe Uhura was finally warming up to him and not just as a captain – Kirk knew that she didn’t think he completely sucked at that – but as a person. Maybe they were on their way of becoming friends. Maybe they could go out drinking and exchange stories about Spock. And maybe somewhere there in the vastness of uncharted space, a species of winged pigs were making their way across the galaxy right now.
There’s a low chuckle from the corner of the room. “I saw it, Jim,” McCoy says. “I saw it but I don’t believe it.”
“I think she likes me,” Kirk says, ambling over. It’s just him and Bones left now. Well them and the detritus of a damn good birthday party. Best he’s ever had, really.
“She tolerates you,” Bones corrects him, shifting over on the sofa, automatically making room for Jim to sit next to him, “on account of her boyfriend being strangely fond of you.”
“Eh, I’ll take it,” Kirk says, leaning back with a contented sigh. They both know that his feelings on Spock and Uhura’s friendship are as far from flippant as possible, so there’s no need to dwell on the subject.
They lapse into silence, watching the artificial evening fall over Yorktown. The sofa faces a window, this one looking out into the cityscape instead the ship yard, and there is something very calming about the constant bustle of life. A part of that is knowing that it’s still there because of what they did. But a bigger part is just knowing that it exits at all. Between the buildings, vehicles zip this way and that, dodging members of every species imaginable. Distantly they can hear the calls of street vendors, the customers flocking to them without much urging, hungry from revelry or a late night at work.
Bones digs out the same confiscated bottle of whiskey they started all those days ago, and pours them both a couple of fingers.
“Happy birthday, Jim,” he says softly. They clink glasses and drink.
Bones seems content to stay, slowly sliding lower on the sofa until his head is tipped back against the cushions, long legs stretched almost to the window. Kirk tries to keep his focus on the city scene in front of him, but flickering of light and shadow across the dim room only serves to draw his eye to the most interesting thing in it.
Of course, if he’s honest with himself, Kirk’s had problems keeping his eyes off Bones all day. The man’s outfit is enough to make him consider writing to the admiralty and pleading them to revoke the permission to wear civilian clothing whilst on leave. Normally, Kirk would happily dispense with the uniforms entirely and just let everyone wear whatever they wanted, but faced with Bones in that leather jacket… Well, it gave him a new appreciation of the familiar buttoned-up science blue. No temptingly open collars there. No jewellery to draw the gaze. No reminders of what it had been like to see Bones this relaxed and approachable almost every day during the Academy. How he’d wanted to reach out and touch, even then, but never did because he knew he wasn’t what Bones needed, what he deserved.
But that was then. And that was a different Jim Kirk; more carefree and capricious for all that he’d already seen, focused on running away from everything and everyone. At least he’d had the foresight to keep some touchstones with him… Although technically, it had been McCoy who couldn’t leave him behind when the time came. And for that, Kirk would always be grateful.
But it wasn’t just gratitude and familiarity. He was smart enough to know the difference, and nowhere near cruel enough to even contemplate acting on it if that had been the case. Kirk turns his head fully toward McCoy, giving up on the pretence of watching the outside when all he wants to do is drink in the presence of his best friend, right here by his side.
Bones looks to be half-way to sleep, the lines of his face smoothed over in rest and the strong column of his neck prominently displayed by the way he has his head tilted back. He’s got his thumbs tucked into the pockets of his jeans, hands framing slim hips in a way that is almost provocative. Jim lets himself look, gaze wandering all the way from Bones’ messier-than-usual hair to the tips of his scruffy boots, lingering on the long line of denim-clad thighs and the bared hollow of his throat, mesmerised by the steady beating of the pulse against the metal of Bones’ necklace. So focused is he on the moment, on memorising every detail, that it takes him a while to realise that McCoy is watching him right back, eyes opened half-way, gaze unwavering.
Kirk blinks, licks his lips, sees the way McCoy’s gaze tracks the movement. “Bones,” he says, the name coming out rougher than he expected, like something intimate whispered in the morning after.
“Yeah, Jim?” Bones asks. He doesn’t sound any better, the drawl in his voice pronounced enough to make Kirk’s gut tighten, a shadow of promised pleasure chasing itself down his spine. Maybe it’s just the lateness of the hour or the whiskey tinting Bones’ voice until it’s molasses thick and slow, but then again… Maybe it’s the company.
He looks at Bones’ mouth, the slack curve of his lips, and thinks ‘I could kiss him now’. The look in McCoy’s eyes is one of pure heat, tempered only by lingering caution. ‘I could kiss him now,’ Jim thinks again, ‘and he would kiss me back.’
He definitely wants to. He lets Bones see that too, owes him that much and more, doesn’t avert his gaze or hide the frank appreciation in it, the desire. Kirk doesn’t move though, no longer willing to jump at the first impulse, or, well, even the thousandth. If the last three years have taught him anything, it’s the value of things that stay. People who stay.
Which is why he’s going to do this right.
“I was thinking,” he says slowly.
“Uh oh,” McCoy interrupts, fond amusement all over his features, body language still open despite the detour from where they both obviously thought things were heading.
“Hey now, don’t underestimate me,” Kirk says, knocking the back of his hand against Bones’ and then just leaving it there.
“Never,” McCoy promises, suddenly serious, and Jim has to look away then, just for a few seconds, and breathe. Because that right there is one of the reasons why they’re here. Because Leonard McCoy is one of the few people who has never, not once, underestimated him. “Go on then,” Bones continues, gently enough that Kirk knows he must realise the effect of his words, “What were you thinking, Jim?”
Kirk clears his throat, drags his mind back to the slowly coalescing plan. “My next birthday,” he starts, “I was thinking… Hoping. We could spend it together?”
Bones frowns at him, not annoyed, just confused. “Where else would I be, Jim? We’ve spent your every birthday together since the first year of Academy. We’re together now.” He waves an illustrative hand between them.
“Right, right,” Kirk says. “But…” he catches Bones’ hand in one of his mid-wave, holding on, “I meant together as in just the two of us. We could get a week’s leave. Go back to Earth. Iowa. Or Georgia. Whatever you want. Or somewhere else, I don’t mind. I just… I want…” He trails off, unable to find the right words to say how he wants the year in between to move this thing between them to a point where going away together will mean something more than any of their past vacations, how he wants the time to do this right, because they deserve it, because it’s Bones.
It seems he doesn’t need to say it out loud though. The answering smile spreading over Bones’ face tells him he understands perfectly. “Yeah Jim,” he says, lacing their fingers together, “sounds like a plan.”